Vineet Ramakrishnan/Zeenews Sports Bureau
Mirpur: What he did at Hobart against the Lankans was ridiculously awe-inspiring and what he did here at the Shere Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur against arch rivals Pakistan is nothing less than breathtakingly grand. He powered India to their highest run chase since the epic Natwest Series final against England way back in 2002. He became the joint highest scorer in a successful Indian chase. His 183 off 148 balls is the sixth highest individual score by an Indian in ODIs and he is just 23 years old who already has 11 centuries to his name.
Chasing a mammoth target of 330 to stay alive in the tournament, Virat Kohli’s magnificent 183 off 148 ably supported by Rohit Sharma’s 68 (83b) and Sachin Tendulkar’s 52 (48b) propelled India to an improbable 6 wickets victory after Pakistan had posted 329 courtesy a double century partnership between Mohammed Hafeez 105 (113b) and Nasir Jamshed 112 (104b) and a quick fire 52 off 34 balls from Younis Khan later in the innings.
Aggressive, brash, arrogant have been the monikers for Kohli’s personality, but it is the innings like this one and one at Hobart that would make the above adjuncts a part of his batting ability, skill and talent. Coming at No.3 he has the best avg. for any player while batting second for his team in ODIs; even better than a certain Hanise Cronje.
Even today his aggression was evident as he pulled belligerently one Aizaz Cheema short one to deep extra cover. It took him just fraction of a second to rock back and swirl around as he executed the pull with disdain.
He showed his brashness in the last ball of the 37th over, the second over of the batting powerplay; Umar Gul had bowled a superb over conceding just four of the first 5 balls, and an evidently perturbed Kohli winded up on a pitched up delivery and smacked it over the bowler’s head for four.
The arrogance of Kohli came in the 4th over as he shuffled across and whipped a good delivery towards deep square leg. It was not more than push but the deep fielder had no chance of cutting that off.
Coming in at No.3 in the very first over after he had a tough time in the pitch colliding hard with Raina and then banging his head on the ground after a catch, Kohli was like a man possessed and even match up to the Matser himself, Sachin Tendulkar, stroke to stroke. And mind you, Sachin was playing at his best, not the form he had two days earlier against Bangladesh, but it was vintage Tendulkar on show with the trademark cover drive with spick and span timing and those astonishing backfoot pushes that only he could execute. Needing a run rate of over 6 to overhaul the target, the duo of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli milked runs with precision, amassing 133 runs between them in just 115 balls with a run rate of 6.93. And this was no ordinary bowling attack – it was the spin trio of World best ODI bowler Saeed Ajmal, the dangerous Shahid Afridi and the wily Mohammed Hafeez.
Ajmal tested the duo to their hilt but with their class, even Ajmal had his work cut out. Even after Sachin’s departure Kohli seldom left his aggressive approach and he showed great maturity and restrain when Rohit Sharma had a tough time early on. Shouldering the responsibility of guiding the chase and not allowing Rohit Sharma to feel the pressure of run rate, Kohli marched as a true deputy to captain cool, MS Dhoni.
His knock of 183 had the undertone of class and maturity written all over it and more importantly he was able to find that thin line of balance between aggression and level headedness. Later, when Rohit Sharma broke the shackles, the future of Indian cricket took center stage diminishing everyone in their path. Even Virat Kohli’s supreme batting prowess looked just good in front of Rohit lazy elegance. Rohit plays well in patches and that is what he did. Whenever pressure mounted on the duo, Rohit produce his spark of brilliance and bailed out the team. Their partnership of 172 in just 158 balls is evidence of the fact that ODI cricket still is the most intriguing format of cricket. One powerful shot to the fence was always followed by a quick single and delicate late cut or a precision square cut to the boundary line was always sandwiched between a couple of quick doubles.
By the time the designated ‘finishers’ of team India walked out to the middle, only the formalities were left to be done with.
Earlier in the day, Pakistan set India a mammoth total of 329 to chase down in a crucial do or die Asia Cup encounter courtesy a tremendous double century partnership by the openers Mohammed Hafeez (105) and Nasir Jamshed (112). Younis Khan (52) provided the thrust needed in the later part of the innings as Indian bowlers put up a lacklustre show second time in a row.
Openers Mohammed Hafeez and Nasir Jamshed started off on a positive note with some cracking shots to the fence with timing written all over it. The Indian bowlers were guilty of bowling short and wide first up. Dhoni then introduced his part timers as early as in the 11th over but the openers went about their business taking no risk at all in the process. Only in the first 10 overs did Pakistan had the run rate below 6. In the rest 40 overs, the openers and then the middle order were able to maintain a run rate of over 6.
Nasir Jamshed (112) known for his big hitting prowess changed his game a bit and played more responsibly as he posted a breezy yet solid maiden century ably supported by the seasoned campaigner Mohammed Hafeez (105). Hafeez, on the other hand played a chanceless innings studded with some classy shots all around the park. His timing especially was immaculate and he was able to find the gaps in the field at regular intervals.
Both the players were in the middle for more than 40 overs stitching together a record opening partnership of 224 against India but they perished in quick succession as they tried to up the ante in the death overs.
Ashok Dinda, who got the wickets of Hafeez and then Azam was the pick of the bowlers as he bowled with some intend early on, though, he was also taken to the cleaners in the slog overs. All the bowlers put up a mediocre show but Praveen Kumar in particular had a torrid time in the middle conceding 77 runs in his allotted 10 overs.
Now, India would be keenly following the final group match of the Asia Cup between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka with a hope of seeing Islanders win in process taking the hosts out of the tournament.